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Heirs to the throne?

Dolan family has keen interest in buying Yankees

Posted: Friday April 27, 2007 12:47PM; Updated: Friday April 27, 2007 5:30PM
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Jim Dolan has struggled to turn the Knicks into a winner.
Jim Dolan has struggled to turn the Knicks into a winner.
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With age creeping up on George Steinbrenner and his team's succession plans seeming unsettled, it was only a matter of time before someone surfaced with interest in buying the Yankees. And the first new name to be heard in quite awhile is an old name: the Dolans, owners of Madison Square Garden, the Knicks, Rangers and cable-TV behemoth Cablevision.

Industry insiders say the Dolan family, which nearly closed a deal on baseball's most historic team nine years ago, has made periodic runs at the franchise since then. Those same insiders say the Dolans are again showing signs they'd like to be first in line should the Yankees come up for sale. The Dolans retain interest in expanding their sporting empire in a big way, and the Yankees are not only in their backyard, but also right up their alley.

"There's been no offer, and the Yankees and the YES Network are not for sale. The Not-for-Sale sign is up," Steinbrenner spokesman Howard Rubenstein said on Thursday. Pressed as to whether there's been any sort of recent overtures by the Dolans, Rubenstein said he was unsure about that.

Regarding any current interest by the Dolans in the Yankees and YES Network, Madison Square Garden spokesman Barry Watkins said they would "politely decline to comment."

While the Yankees aren't fielding offers now, industry experts said a sale can't be ruled out eventually in light of Steinbrenner's advancing age (he's 76) and declining condition. Some close to him say he's "struggling" and that the pace he's kept has slowed dramatically in the past couple years. ("He's fine ... he seems in decent shape," Rubenstein, the high-powered P.R. man, insisted.) There's also the matter of his apparent succession plans, which fell apart in March with the decision of his daughter, Jennifer, to divorce the heir apparent, Steve Swindal.

Swindal's impending ouster has given rise to parlor games as to who will succeed Steinbrenner. The favorite at the moment appears to be elder son Hank, whose main business was the family thoroughbred farm until six months ago, when he began reporting to a Yankees office at the team's Legends Field facility, by his father's. Whether Hank's presence portends an ascension remains unknown. Steinbrenner's sons, unlike their famous father, prefer to stay out of the spotlight.

Any renewed interest by the Dolans could be unrelated to changes within the Yankees' hierarchy, as industry insiders say the Dolans' interest in baseball has never waned. In addition to their 1998 talks with the Yankees that nearly resulted in a sale for an estimated $600 million (which would have been a steal), the Dolans tried hard to buy the Red Sox and NESN in late 2001, bidding around $400 million for those entities plus Fenway Park before losing out to John Henry, a former Yankees limited partner and Marlins owner. Charles Dolan's brother Larry currently owns the Cleveland Indians.

Jim Dolan has shown one similarity to Steinbrenner (at least the old Steinbrenner) in his manner of running the Knicks in that his payroll knows no bounds in his lust to win. However, unlike the Yankees, who have won six World Series titles during Steinbrenner's reign and become practically a postseason certainty (though things look iffy at 8-12 early this season), the Knicks have floundered during Dolan's tenure, occasionally to the point of embarrassment. Jim Dolan's time at the top of the Knicks' hierarchy has been marked by misplaced faith, a rotation of big-name coaches and ill-conceived rosters, but mostly by wasted dollars

Even if Steinbrenner decides to sell, the Dolans may have a tough time wresting the team from him, anyway. If the idea of Jim Dolan, who has had his share of documented difficulties trying to make the Knicks a winner, scares Yankees fans, the idea of the Dolans may elicit a similarly negative reaction from Steinbrenner, industry insiders say.

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